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Boston in 1835

BOSTON (Lincolnshire), a sea-port, borough, and market town, on the river Witham ; partly in the wapentake of Skirbeck, and partly in that of Kirton. Its measured distance from London is 116 miles ; its computed distance, in a straight line, 93 miles. It is 36 miles S.S.E. of Lincoln. Previous to the Reform Act, it was in the division of Holland ; it is now in the parts of Kesteven and Holland, which form the S. division of the county, and is one of the polling-places for the election of knights of the shire. A small addition is made to the parish by the Boundary Act to constitute the new borough. These additions are the parish of Skirbeck, the hamlet of Skirbeck-Quarter, and the fen-allotment of Skirbeck-Quarter. Boston has sent two members to parliament since the 37th Henry VIII, when it was first made a free borough. It sent members to three councils in the reign of Edward III.

Origin, History, Antiquities.

The origin and ancient history of Boston are obscure. The great canal or drain, called the Car-dyke, which extends forty miles in length from the Welland, in the south of the county, near Lincoln, to the Witham, is generally attributed to the Romans. It is stated on various authorities that Roman coins have been found on the banks of this dyke. The Foss-dyke is a continuation of the drain from Lincoln to the Trent at Torksey, and appears to have been the work of the same hands. The Westlode, another ancient drain in the parts of Holland, carries off the upland waters, by its communication with the Welland at Spalding. The old sea-dyke is a great bank erected along the coast, in order to render the drains safe from the influx of the ocean.

The marshes and fens which had been hitherto, or at least for some previous centuries, extensive lakes of stagnant water, were now drained, and furnished large tracts of rich land, suitable for every agricultural purpose. The country was intersected with canals, and guarded from the future inroads of the sea by stupendous works of embankment, erected under the directions and by the skill of the Roman generals and commanders. Several of the great works here alluded to are said to have been performed in Nero’s time, and during the procuratorship of Catus Decianus. The county of Lincoln was included in the Roman province of Flavia Caesariensis, and there were several military stations in different parts of the county. Whether Boston was one of them is a disputed point among antiquaries. By one authority it is considered, with a great degree of plausibility, as the Causennis of the Romans. To those who are curious on the subject of these ancient military stations, the Itinerarium of Dr. William Stukeley, and his ‘account of Richard of Cirencester,’ may be consulted with satisfaction. Three of the principal Roman roads were carried through Lincolnshire, but none of them passed through Boston, and it is by no means certain that there was a branch road to it. Lincolnshire was a part of the kingdom of Mercia during the heptarchy, and the Saxon Chronicle informs us that St. Botolph built a monastery here, A.D. 654, which existed till the county was ravaged by the Danes, A.D. 870.

Bede says that St. Botolph had a monastery at Icanhoe. Leland claims Lincoln as the site of Icanhoe, the spot where the monastery was built. From the testimony of many antiquaries, Boston appears to have been the ancient Icanhoe, and the site of St. Botolph’s monastery. Some topographers are satisfied with concluding that Boston is a corruption of Botolph’s town. Dr. Stukeley says, ‘Icanhoe, Icanhoc, or as it was commonly called, according to Dugdale, Wenno, is supposed to have been the ancient name of Boston;’ and also that it was the last bounds northwards of the Iceni ; he therefore concludes its old name was Icanhoe.

Boston not being mentioned in ‘Domesday Book,’ Mr. P. Thompson supposes that it was included with Skirbeck, for ‘at the present day, it is very nearly surrounded by Skirbeck, and appears to occupy the very centre of the land which, in the Domesday Survey, was returned as belonging to that parish.’

Modern History

Little worthy of notice is recorded of Boston during the early part of the Norman government. In the year 1204 it was a wealthy town ; for when the quinzieme was levied (a duty which was raised on the fifteenth part of land and goods, at the several ports of England), the merchants of Boston paid £780 ; London paid £836. (Madox’s Hist. of the Exchequer.) London paid the largest sum of any port, and Boston was the second in amount. (Thompson.) A great annual fair was held at Boston ; at what date established is unknown, but it is on record that it was resorted to from Norwich, Bridlington, and Craven during the thirteenth century. Articles of dress, wine, and groceries formed part of its commerce. In 1281 part of Boston was destroyed by fire ; and in 1286 a great part of the town and the surrounding district suffered from an inundation. This flood is probably the same as that mentioned in Stowe’s Chronicle, p. 229. ‘An intolerable number of men, women, and children were overwhelmed with the water, especially the towne of Boston, or Buttolphe’s-towne, a great part whereof was destroyed.’ It was one of the towns, appointed by the statute of staple (27th Edward III), where the staple of ‘wools, leather, woolfels, and lead,’ should be held. A staple town is described by Weever as a ‘place to which, by authority and privilege, wool, hides, wine, corn, and other foreign merchandize are conveyed to be sold ; or, it is a town or city whither the merchants of England, by command, order, or commandment, did carry their lead, tin, or other home produce for sale to foreign merchants. Many merchants from the important commercial towns of the continent resided at Boston during this early period, and it is probable that both the above characteristics of a staple town were combined in it. It also ranked high as one of the sea-ports of the kingdom, its situation at the mouth of the Witham giving it advantages equal to those of any other port on the eastern coast. The advantages which Boston possessed as a place of trade, brought over the merchants of the Hanseatic league, who established their guild here. In 1359 Edward III assessed eighty-two towns to provide ships and men for the invasion of Brittany. Boston furnished to this navy seventeen ships and 361 men, a greater number of vessels than was supplied by Portsmouth, Hull, Harwich, or Lynn ; and equal in number of ships. and superior in number of men to those furnished by Newcastle ; out of the eighty-two towns, only eleven sent a superior number of ships to Boston.

About 1470 the trade of Boston received a check in consequence of some dispute, when 'one Humphrey Littlebyri, merchant of Boston, did kill one of the Esterlinges;’ (supposed to be the same as the Hanseatic merchants) ; ‘this caused the Esterlinges to quit Boston, and syns the town sore decayed. (Leland’s Itinerary, vol. vii.) At the time when Leland wrote his account of Boston (1530), the commerce of the town had begun to decline. He speaks of the ‘great and famous fair,’ and of the ‘old glory and riches that it had,’ as matters of history, and says, ‘the staple and the stilliard houses yet there remayne, but the stilliard is little or nothing at all occupied.’ The stilliard house was the ancient custom-house, and the merchants of the steelyard were so called, from the circumstance of their trading almost entirely by weight, and using the steelyard as their weighing apparatus. Boston was still further reduced by the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Some amends were made by Henry in granting the town a charter of incorporation ; it was thus made a free borough, and enjoyed many important privileges. By this charter, granted in the 37th of Henry VIII, the borough is at present chiefly governed. Philip and Mary, in the first year of their reign, endowed the corporation with a rich grant of lands and messuages, to assist in maintaining the bridge and port, for supporting a school in the town, for finding two presbyters for the celebration of divine worship in the parish church, and for the maintenance of four beadsmen to pray there for ever for the good and prosperous state of the queen while living. This valuable endowment, according to the original record, in the Chapel of the Rolls, consisted of fifty messuages, ten gardens, and 227 acres of land, situated immediately near Boston. The late municipal inquiry however shows the property to be ‘511 acres, 1 rood, and 21 perches of land, and some houses, and yields a yearly rent of £2,142, 16 shillings and 6 pence.’ This difference is accounted for partly by a presumed inaccuracy in the measurements, and partly by the circumstance of many allotments having been made to the corporation under Inclosure Acts.

During the reign of Elizabeth the port continued to decline, though she granted the mayor and burgesses a charter of admiralty, giving them power to levy certain duties on ships entering the ‘Norman Deeps.’ In 1571 Boston and the surrounding district suffered much from a violent tempest, an account of which is given by Hollinshed. During the latter part of that century it was visited by the plague, and in 1625 it had a similar visitation. In 1643 Boston was strongly fortified for the king and parliament, but it was soon crowded with the parliamentary soldiery, and made the head-quarters of Cromwell’s army. The principal men of the district favoured the cause of the Protector. In June, 1643, Colonel Cavendish defeated the parliamentary troops at Donington, near Boston, and soon after Cromwell removed his quarters to Sleaford. on the restoration of Charles II, a warrant was issued, by which some of the officers of the borough were removed, in consequence of the favour they had shown in the cause of Cromwell. About the middle of the eighteenth century, the commerce of Boston fell into still greater decay, ‘through the ruinous state into which the river and haven had fallen, in consequence of neglect and mismanagement, and from errors committed in execution of works of drainage.’ (Thompson.)

Ecclesiastical History

Dr. Stukeley supposes that the monastery of St. Botolph stood ‘on the south of the present church;’ he saw ‘vast stone walls dug up there, and a plain leaden cross.’ Nothing is known of this establishment except the dates of its foundation and destruction, which have been mentioned. The Dominican, or black friars, were established at Boston in the early part of the thirteenth century : in A.D. 1288 their church was burnt in a riot ; but they were afterwards re-established. The Carmelite friars had a priory at Boston, founded in 1301, and various small grants of land from pious individuals, and from Henry IV.; and their order was patronized by Thomas Earl of Rutland. Not a vestage of this priory remains : at the dissolution of the religious houses, its site was granted to the mayor and burgesses of Boston. The Augustine friars had also an establishment at Boston, founded in 1307 ; and also the Franciscans, or grey friars, one founded in 1332, and under the wardenship of the monastery at York. The sites of these houses were granted to the corporation at the Reformation. Some other minor religious houses are recorded as having existed at Boston. Several associations, called Guilds, existed at Boston, some of which seem to have had a mixed character. The monks are supposed to have been their first founders. The guild of St. Botolph was a fraternity of merchants, which appears to have had only mercantile objects in view. The guild of Corpus Christi is thought to have been a religious one ; at the Dissolution it was called a college. The guild of the Blessed Mary was one of greater importance, an in its purposes partly religious. Its hall is at present used by the corporation for their judicial proceedings, public dinners &c. The council-chamber contains a portrait of Sir Joseph Banks, by Lawrence, which was presented by him to the corporation on his election to the office of recorder of Boston in 1809. The guild of St. Peter and St. Paul was a religious establishment, and had a chapel, or an altar in the parish church. St. George’s guild was a trading community, and respecting that of the Holy Trinity nothing is known. The possessions of all these guilds were vested in the corporation of Boston when the religious houses were dissolved.

The first stone of the present church of St. Botolph was laid in 1309, but the existence of a church at Boston is recorded so early as 1090. The vicarage is now in the gift of the corporation, and its annual value is £360, which is paid out of the grant of Philip and Mary. This church is one of the largest parish churches without transepts in the kingdom. It is 245 feet long, and 98 feet wide within the walls. Its tower is one of the loftiest in the kingdom, being 300 feet high, and ascended by 365 steps. The tower, which is visible at sea for more than forty miles, is surmounted by an elegant octagonal lantern, which is a guide to mariners on entering the Boston and Lynn Deeps. ‘This lantern,’ says Rickman, ‘is panelled throughout, and each side is pierced with a large two-light window, having double transoms ; this composition gives to the upper part of the steeple a richness and lightness scarcely equalled in the kingdom. The church is principally decorated, and the tower perpendicular, both excellent in their kind. The chancel is partly decorated and partly perpendicular, and there is a good south porch. The tower, which is one of the finest compositions of the perpendicular style, is a complete arrangement of panelling over walls and buttresses, except the belfry story, in which the window is so large as nearly to occupy the whole face of the tower.’ (Rickman on Gothic Architecture, p. 251.) The altar-piece, set up in 1741, is in four compartments, and represents the Crucifixion, the Annunciation, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Ascension ; it is a copy from the celebrated one by Rubens in the great church at Antwerp. In a chamber over the south door is the parish library, which contains several hundred volumes, among which are many valuable and scarce works on divinity ; it was formed by Anthony Tuckney.

The chapel of ease, which was erected by subscription in 1822 is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the subscribers, for fifteen years from the time of its erection ; after which time the corporation become its patrons. There was formerly a church called St. John’s, which was taken down nearly 200 years ago ; its burying-ground is still used as a place of interment. The dissenting places of worship in Boston are for Independents, Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, General and Particular Baptists, Unitarians, and Quakers. Most of these denominations have their own Sunday-schools, which altogether educate nearly a thousand children.

The Haven

The history of the Witham, and the harbour, and the influence of the drainage of the fens upon them, abound with interesting details. The changes which have taken place from local circumstances appear to have greatly affected the prosperity of the town. Speaking of the fall in the Witham from Lincoln to the sea, Sir William Dugdale says, ‘the descent of the stream is so little, that the water, having a slow passage, cannot keep it wide and deep enough either for navigation or for draining the adjacent marshes.’ It appears, notwithstanding, that during the commercial prosperity of Boston, ships of a heavy burden could get up to the town ; it appears also that in those days great attention was paid to the removal of obstructions, and to the cleansing of the river. In 1751 it was stated that thirty years before a ship of 250 tons could get up to Boston ; but that then even a small sloop of forty or fifty tons, drawing only six feet of water, could not sail to or from the town except at a spring-tide. One of the causes of this decay of the haven is attributed to the diversion of the waters of the neighbouring fens from their ancient entrance into the Witham, above Boston, which had formerly discharged themselves in such large quantities, as to assist in scouring away the sediment brought up by every tide. An act of parliament was obtained in 1762, empowering the to corporation to cut a canal, and to construct a great sluice, to assist in the drainage, and to remove the impediments in the navigation of Boston haven. This was done, and the sluice was opened in 1766. Various subsequent acts of parliament for minor improvements in draining, deepening, and embanking have also been obtained. The most favourable results have followed these measures, which began to be visible as soon as the larger works were completed.

Town Government, Population, Expenses, &c.

Boston has been chiefly governed by the charter of Henry VIII, already mentioned. The title of the corporation was, ‘The Mayor and Burgesses of the borough of Boston;’ the officers being a mayor, recorder, deputy-recorder, twelve aldermen; eighteen common councilmen, coroner, town-clerk, judge of the court of admiralty, gaoler, and subordinate officers connected either with the borough or port. Freemen were created by birth, servitude, gift, and purchase. The number of resident freemen was about four hundred and eighty ; that of non-residents, about forty. Under the new Municipal Act, it is placed in the second section of the boroughs which are to have a commission of the peace, to be divided into three wards, to have six aldermen, eighteen common-council men, and the other officers provided in the Act, by which the government of the borough will be materially changed. The court of quarter-seasons is held before the mayor, deputy-recorder, and other magistrates. There is a court of requests for the recovery of small debts, which seems to be beneficial. The borough gaol is very inadequate for that classification of the prisoners which the law requires, as there is no provision for a separation of the untried from the convicted, and the young offender has to associate, day and night, with the hardened culprit. The number of prisoners committed to this gaol was, in 1830, 308 ; in 1831, 290 ; in 1832, 289. For details respecting the income and application of the corporate funds, we refer to the ‘Corporation Reports.’ The town is but indifferently supplied with water ; attempts have been made to supply this deficiency by boring, but they have not been successful. In 1828, a depth of 600 feet was attained without any favourable result, and the object was then abandoned. In dry seasons, the inhabitants have to buy water. It is well supplied with coal by the coasting vessels from Sunderland, Newcastle, &c. Its foreign trade is chiefly with the Baltic, whence it imports hemp, iron, timber, and tar ; it exports corn, particularly oats. In the years 1811 and 1812, one-third of the whole quantity of oats which arrived in the port of London, were shipped from Boston.

The borough and parish of Boston contains 7,923 acres 39 poles. Its population in 1801, was 5,926 ; in 1811, 8,180 ; in 1821, 10,373 ; in 1831, 11,240 ; of whom 5,094 were males, and 6,146 females. Under its extended boundary by the Reform Act, the population of the borough is 12,818.

Families employed in agriculture, 149 ; in trade, manufactures, &c., 1,234 ; not comprised in the above, 1,104.

Annual value of real property, in 1833, £40,000.

Assessed taxes, for years ending 5th of April, 1829, £3,064, 13 shillings and 6 pence ; 1830, £2,979, l shilling and 6¾ pence ; 1831, £2,952, 14 shillings and 7 pence ; 1832, £3,005, 4 shillings and 6 pence.

Parochial assessments, for years ending 25th of March, 1829, £4,863, 3 shillings : 1830, £8,810, 18 shillings and 6 pence ; 1831, £8,451, 3 shillings ; 1832, £9,091, 19 shillings and 6 pence ; 1833, £8,578, 19 shillings.

Number of houses, in 1833 (as charged to the house-duty), £10 and under £20 rent, 310 ; £20 and under £40, 161 ; £40 and upwards, 79.

Public Buildings, Trade, &c.

The town on the E. side of the river consists of one long street, called Bargate, the market-place, and some minor streets ; there is another long street on the W. side of the river, called High-street. The market-place is spacious, and very suitable for the well-attended and well-supplied fairs and markets which are held ; the market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays, and are particularly noted for sea and river fish. Immense numbers of sheep and horned cattle are sold at the markets, and there are convenient areas in several adjacent parts of the town, where the cattle are folded and penned during the time of sale. As an out-port in the centre of a very fertile agricultural district, equally adapted to pasturage and corn, and with a breed of cattle of a very fine description being remarkably large and famed for their symmetry. Boston is favoured above many coast-towns. The drainage and inclosure of the neighbouring fens have materially increased its internal means of wealth, by enabling it to bring into its market immense quantities of agricultural produce ; while the conveyance of this produce to London and other places gives occupation to its shipping. There are some few manufactures at Boston for sail-cloth, canvass, and sacking ; there are also iron and brass founderies. By means of the Witham and the canals connected with it, Boston has a navigable communication with Lincoln, Gainsborough, Nottingham, and Derby, and by them with all the inland towns. The new market-house, erected in 1819, includes a convenient corn-market : there are also butter, poultry, fish, and stock markets. The assembly-rooms are over the new market-house, which altogether forms a very handsome building, east of the haven, and near the iron bridge. This bridge, which is of a single arch, and of cast-iron, is an elegant structure ; it was commenced in 1802, and opened for carriages in 1807. Its convexity is so slight, that the road over it is nearly horizontal. Its dimensions are 86 ft. 6 in. in span, and 39 ft. broad : it was built at the expense of the corporation, and cost, including the purchase of buildings, £22,000. The petty sessions for the wapentakes of Kirton and Skirbeck are held every Wednesday. The custom-house is a plain, substantial building, near the quay ; it was taken down and rebuilt in its present shape about a century ago. The poorhouse is in St. Johns Row ; it was built about the year 1730. The corporation have no share in its management. The dispensary, commenced in 1795, is supported by subscription ; the patients generally are visited at their houses. The town is lighted with gas. There are two subscription libraries and two news-rooms. The amusements of the theatre are not so well encouraged as formerly.

Education and Charities

A grammar-school was provided for by the rich grant of Philip and Mary in 1554. The building was erected by the mayor and burgesses in 1567 ; it is in the mart-yard, so called from the great annual fair having been held in it. The school-room is described as a spacious, lofty, and airy room, and there is a high wall round the play-ground. The corporation have the appointment of the schoolmaster, to whom they pay £220 per annum. A portion of this sum is allowed during the approbation and pleasure of the corporate body. The corporation lately expended the sum of £1,800 in providing a house for the master, who pays them a rent of £40 a-year ; he also pays an usher £60 a-year. An annual sum of £80 is paid by the corporation to the late master. The school was under his charge thirty-five years, and the number of pupils, which had formerly been large, decreased to three. The pension was given him to induce him to resign his office, and a most desirable change has been produced ; the number of pupils now being forty, nearly all of whom are free boys. The usual education of a grammar-school is free to the children of every inhabitant of the parish ; for a commercial education, a guinea a quarter is charged. The children of members of the Established Church are taught its catechism, those of Dissenters are not. (Further particulars in Carlisle’s Endowed Schools, and in the Corporation Reports.) The Blue Coat School, established in the year 1713, by subscriptions and donations, is for the education of boys and girls. The master and mistress have £100 a-year. The number of children in the school is 30 boys and 25 girls. The National and British Schools were both established in the year 1815 ; at each of them one penny a-week is paid by the children. The National School contains 94 boys and 80 girls. The British or Public School, 150 boys and 70 girls. There is also an Infant School, which takes charge of 120 children. Laughton’s Charity School was established by a gentleman of that name in 1707; it was intended for the poorest freemen’s sons, and for placing out a certain number of them as apprentices every year. There have been several benefactors to this school since its founder ; in 1819 its annual income was £200, since that time it has increased. The number of pupils is thirty-five ; the sum of money given to them as an apprentice-fee, on their attaining the age of fourteen, varies according to the state of the funds at the time they leave the school ; it is generally £10. The names of other charities sufficiently explain their object : they are a Bible Society, a Dorcas Charity, the Poor Freemen’s and Apprentices’ Charities.

Two interesting remains of antiquity have yet to be noticed, - the Kyme Tower, and the Hussey Tower. The former is situated about two miles east of Boston ; it is of brick, quadrangular, and has an octagonal turret at its south-east angle, containing a flight of about twenty steps. It is said to have been a baronial residence of the Earls of Richmond ; it passed into the Rochford family, from thence into that of the Kymes, and finally escheated to the crown, in consequence of some political transgression of its owner. It is now the property of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. The Hussey Tower is situated in the town, near St. John’s Row, and is the remains of a baronial residence of Lord Hussey. From what is now standing no idea can be formed of the original form or extent of this building.